live aboard preparation

Bring the joy

I recently read the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”*, and while I’m glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it, one concept in particular has stuck in my head – the tossing-out criteria that your possessions should bring you joy.

This is especially apt when we’re going through our 19-years-of-life-in-the-same-house stuff, preparing to move onto our small sailboat. It’s apt for the kids as they prep for college, though they’d look at me sideways if I used that criteria when talking to them about their belongings. They already think my love of personal development is a tad over the top.

My bookshelf can stand some weeding. The books on there have all, at some point in time or other, brought me joy (that, or they were a good deal, or a gift); for some of them, that joy is past. It’s time for someone else to have those. For some reason this idea isn’t daunting. I love my books. I love being surrounded by books. Yet the idea of shedding 95% of the titles that are on the shelves feels right. I can have the ones that matter most with me, and I can have room on the shelves for ones that appear along the journey.

My clothing is an entire different story. I think wholesale donation or a “buy nothing” group or consignment is in order. Do I dare just do that in one afternoon? I might be wearing the same outfits 10 days in a row. Would anyone notice other than me? The dilemma on that one is that I’m in full penny-pinching mode, trying hard NOT to spend money on non-boat things. This concept does not play nicely with my loathing of shopping consignment or thrift; I detest the hunt for a decent outfit in the mismatched displays. I am not a confident clothes shopper, and sifting through racks of things is just not something I enjoy.

Still, I’d love to put on clothing every day that brings me joy, from my undergarments to a coat. Imagine what that would do to my outlook on the world, to start the day from a place of joy. And when we’re cruising? Why not enhance it any way I can?

This concept hits me over and over again in the kitchen as I cook, one eye to the food prep and one eye to the tools I use. I’m noticing my choices, that I gravitate to the same pots and pans and bowls over and over and over again. They tend to the solid, the brightly-colored. Using them brings a smile to my face. Are they the practical choices? Of course not, not from a traditional “good boat material” standpoint. They’re ceramic, not stainless steel. Cast iron. Wood. The French press is a glass one. Most pieces have a story with them, a story of how or why they came to be in my possession. As I write this I realize that all of them require some degree of care, much like the cruising lifestyle requires some degree of care. Is this part of what brings me joy, that they need to be cared for?

  My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

I’m looking forward to carefully choosing the items that will come with us on board. The book has given me a way to sift through what we have, a question to ask to help frame the right answer. Cruising is a lifestyle that’s intended, at least the way we do it, to bring joy. Everything on board should be able to do that as well.

See you out there.

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What Kind of Dinghy Should I Get?

Our dinghy was the first boat we had together, or at least we had all the  parts of the dinghy as our first boat.

When we graduated from college and drove across the country to Texas from Virginia, we had hours to discuss our plans. We’d already decided we were going cruising, and the moving truck we’d rented had all of our college furniture inside it. That we had found some of that furniture on the curb where someone else was throwing it out didn’t matter one bit – we were just going to deal with it for another couple of years. Why buy new?

Part of the conversation was about the dinghy.

When you’re cruising, your dinghy is kind of like your car. Scratch the “kind of” – it IS your car, unless you’re planning on marina hopping all over. You anchor the boat somewhere, then get in the dink to get you to shore, or to a neighbor’s boat for sundowners, or to find the cool river to explore. It’s what takes you and snorkel gear to nearby reefs, and helps you maneuver in tight spots. We’ve used it to scout anchorage entrances, armed with a boat pole to check depths. (Side note – some people use awesome handheld depth sounders*. This sounds like an excellent birthday or Christmas present.)

  This might be on my wish list.

This might be on my wish list.

But the question about what kind of dinghy is about as fraught with “IT DEPENDS” as the big boat question. And, like much of the cruising lifestyle, there is not one right answer.

We moved to Houston and in with Jeremy’s parents until we could find our own apartment. Jeremy’s job had wanted him to start even before graduation, which wasn’t happening, so our available time to housing-hunt was non-existent. We arrived on a Saturday, unloaded the van into the garage on Sunday, and Jeremy was off to the office on Monday. It took weeks of driving around (this was before the Internet) and calling to finally find the perfect spot, which had a spare room.

The dinghy room.

Jeremy had his heart set on building a dinghy. He’d ordered plans from WoodenBoat Magazine for a 7.5’ long dinghy and talked about the craftsmanship he’d employ. He loves working with his hands and building things, and this felt like a way to really focus the boat-owning experience if it took a long time to find the boat we wanted. 

Heck with finding the boat, which was ours within 9 months. It took a long time to finish the dinghy. So long, in fact, that he put the finishing touches on it (permanently installing the bench) in Naples, Florida, about 3 months after we’d shoved off the dock from Kemah. Putting the last planks in was a matter of rushing to complete it before our apartment lease ended; it needed to be stable enough to move to another storage spot.

Dinghy #1: A wooden dinghy. These are fabulous and tough, beautiful to look at gorgeous to row. You can fit a sailing rig to it, and even a small outboard motor. They’re traditional, relatively stable, and simple. If you’re going to use it for snorkeling a lot, you will want to figure out a ladder system so you can actually get yourself out of the water, but this is a challenge even on an inflatable. 

  See both dinghies?

See both dinghies?

When we got to Grenada, we were a little tired of the wet, slow ride our gorgeous dinghy afforded us with its appropriately-sized 2 horse engine. We’d pulled out the sailing rig exactly twice. We hate rowing. These are good things to learn about us and how we work. Time to investigate the idea of an inflatable.

  Inflatable awesomeness.

Inflatable awesomeness.

Inflatables come in a number of flavors, most of which have to do with the floor you choose. You could choose just a flexible floor (think a pool toy raft kind of floor), but I don’t recommend this option for active cruising. You’ll be carrying trash to shore, water and groceries and laundry  to the boat, and schlepping people around. Choose a floor. You’ll be happier.

There are rollup floors, with slats of different materials. There are inflatable floors, or air floors. There are solid floors, called Rigid Inflatable Boats, or RIBs – which basically pair a solid floor and keel with buoyant tubes. You’re looking at a compromise of price, weight, convenience, and size.

We’d heard that Trinidad had great prices on engines, and that the place to buy a dinghy was Venezuela. Since we were loosely planning to go to both of those countries, operation buy-a-dink was set into high motion.

You’d think, with a 28’ boat, that we’d be looking at small, light, and stowable for our inflatable. A small Zodiac, maybe, or an Avon roll-up. 

No. We chose the biggest dinghy, with the biggest engine, we could conceive of. I don’t know if back then there were dinghies with consoles, but in any case that felt insane even to us. We decided on a RIB, either 9 or 10 feet long, that we’d buy in Venezuela, where Caribe and AB both had dealers or manufacturers – the details are a bit fuzzy. And for either of those dinks, a 15 horse motor is absolutely the right size.

Why a RIB? Jeremy had horror stories about Avons that didn’t hold air, and a Zodiac that was a nightmare to pump up every time they wanted to use it. We wanted a dinghy that was ready to go always, no pumping required. And the wet rides in Soca, the wooden boat, made us long for a planning hull. A RIB it was.

We bought the motor in Trinidad a good 6 weeks before we headed across to Venezuela, building a custom bracket for it to sit when we were on passage. 

  There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

The engine for the boat? A 10 horse, single-cylinder, hand-crank Sabb. The dinghy, weighing just about 100 pounds, would have more power than our 14,000 pound boat. Ah the irony.

And when we got to Venezuela, sniffing out chandleries in Isla Margarita where other cruisers had told us they’d bought their dinks, it didn’t take long or much justification to go with an AB (we liked the interior volume and the bow locker) that maxed out our size range. We’d have kids eventually, we reasoned. Go big or go home. What’s an extra foot? The cost difference was negligible, the weight difference also tiny. Toby, the beagle, would love the space.

We looked very funny for the next year or so as we towed around 2 dinghies. Coming up the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay, a trip that’s marked with more motoring than sailing, we got in the habit of hauling the dinghies out on either side, looking for all the world like a weird trimaran. We got used to the cracks about the dinghy being larger than the boat.

  We were a 2-dink family

We were a 2-dink family

There were issues. Stowing the big dinghy, which we call Chutney, is a pain. It fits on the foredeck barely, rendering the windlass and the staysail unusable, so last minute lashing happens after the anchor is up, and coming into an anchorage means dealing with the dink until we can get it all done. And not having the staysail, for a boat designed to sail her best with the use of one, is just not sustainable.

So now, 25 years after we first bought the boat, 22 years after we brought our first dinghy on board, we are back in the conversation about what dinghy to have. Our plans include crossing oceans. We need to access the windlass. The staysail is an important part of our sailing world. As much as we LOVE Chutney, the bigger-than-life RIB we bought in Venezuela, a country that currently sits on our personal “off limits” list? It’s too big. 

So we’re measuring. Thinking. Asking lots of questions at boat shows. 

Here's the thing with dinghies, and it's like a lot of other boat conversations. 1) There's not one perfect answer for anyone. We started out wanting a wooden one, to show off skills and have it fit with the look of the boat. We shifted to wanting as large a dink, with as big a motor, as we could figure out how to use. And now we're onto the idea that the dinghy needs to stow well in a certain area (under the boom), be light enough to deal with effectively, and doesn't need to be huge.

As our lives have changed, so have our requirements for a dinghy. Don't think you're stuck forever with whatever you decide to get now. Flexibility is important for so many things in this wonderful boating world of ours.

Meanwhile, we’ve got 2 dinghies for sale. A wooden gorgeous one, and a 10.5’ RIB. Anyone want one?

  Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

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Breathe.

All I've got for you today is a picture.

I've been wrestling with a long piece for the website today, a piece I think and hope will help a whole lot of people, and my brain is mush.

But this picture reminds me that it's all for a reason. That there's deep beauty in this world. That sunsets are worth savoring.

Take a breath and savor. I am.

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Overbuilt Boats - a Project Update!

Jeremy turned off the oscillating cutting tool* and the Shop Vac and looked at me. "There isn't tabbing on the underside too, is there?" I could hear him, barely, over the toilet paper we'd both stuffed into our ears as the best ear protection we could muster on a weekend we thought we'd only be working on the outside of the boat.

I nodded. "Unfortunately."

Yes, the shelf that needed to come out as the next step in PROJECT MAIN SALON BUNK was tabbed with multiple layers of fiberglass not only on the top, but also on the bottom. Half inch plywood sandwiched between layers of fiberglass that was close to 1/8 of an inch thick. ON BOTH SIDES. Sheesh.

  Lovely, sturdy, and facing demolition.

Lovely, sturdy, and facing demolition.

The BCC has the reputation of being built like a tank. Lin and Larry Pardey talk about boats being priced by the pound, like a good steak, and this one must be a freaking filet mignon.

(Lest you get any ideas, let me tell you we bought the boat in 1992, from the 2nd owner, and it was NOT priced like a filet mignon. If we’d bought a new one, from the factory, it would have been. This one . . . luckily for us, it was more like hamburger. Good grade burger meat, but burger meat nonetheless.)

  Burger meat, made into meatballs.

Burger meat, made into meatballs.

The Sam L Morse yard was one where standards were high and the finish quality was superb. Ours was finished off by a yard in San Diego, I believe – Bill Clark Custom Yachts, if I am remembering right – and I’d have to imagine the finish quality was on par with Sam Morse.

Unless it’s common to tab in a shelf with multiple layers of fiberglass tape and roving on BOTH SIDES? Maybe it is.

But damn we need to buy stock in an oscillating cutting tool company, or at least the blades. Cutting through fiberglass is hard work!

When the original owners had the boat finished off, at least as much as they did that anyway, they probably had no idea anyone would ever rip out the work they put time and money into. They felt that way, I am sure, about the gorgeously finished, mahogany sided cabinet for the stainless steel lobster pot that served as the boat’s first head. 

  When we bought her, mast in a yard somewhere else. I didn't take a pic of the head.

When we bought her, mast in a yard somewhere else. I didn't take a pic of the head.

The first of many admiring curse words were flung at the builder at that demolition project, I can tell you.

And we’re right back at it as we tear out the port side shelf, once the proud base for our single sideband radio and bookshelf as well as kids’ clothing, games, and a whole bunch of spare batteries.

  An earlier version of work on this space. Note the games, radio, and various amounts of STUFF.

An earlier version of work on this space. Note the games, radio, and various amounts of STUFF.

I’m not advocating going cheap or easy when you’re constructing any part of a boat. After all, even a lowly bookshelf has to be able to withstand forces and twisting we can only calculate if we’re mathematically (and doomsday) inclined. But it may be worth remembering, as you zealously craft perfection, that someday it's possible you’ll want to tear out whatever it is you are building.

  Blank slate, ready for the next iteration.

Blank slate, ready for the next iteration.

Or maybe it’s just better to buy stock in those tools you’ll need to destroy your work now.

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How to Talk Like a Cruiser

When I was in high school, long before I started sailing for real, a friend of mine asked me to proofread an essay she wrote. She’s a sailor; the essay was a lovely, personal memoir-type essay about her family and their boat. I made a few corrections and handed it back to her with the comment, “You may want to change the language to make it accessible to anyone.”

  Sundowners.

Sundowners.

She disagreed. “It’s an essay about sailing; the intended audience is someone who sails. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

It may well have been my first real lesson in the power of audience and writing for your audience, though I’d been practicing it for years. It also brought to mind, quickly, the nuances of vocabulary.

Any lifestyle, like any geographic location,  has its own special vocabulary, and it goes a long way to helping you fit in when you can speak the lingo.

There’s insider speak on the internet. LOL. (laugh out loud) TLDR (too long; don’t read). ISO (I seek other) and IKR (I know, right?) and BRB (be right back). On Women Who Sail, the constant questions around “So what IS DH anyway?” (dear hubby, deck hand, dick head – multiple meanings depending on the context) are a reminder that it’s helpful to have a guide to the language.

Boating is, of course, no exception to the “let’s create our own language” phenomenon. There are standard boat terms, all of which help with communication from a safety standpoint. When you understand that bow and stern and port and starboard are ALWAYS in relation to the boat, not where you happen to be standing,  yelling out “hazard to port” saves confusion and time. Boat parts and their names are often one of the first things taught in a sailing school for good reason.

But what about the rest of the words? What about going cruising and wanting to fit in? What about when you’ve bought a boat and are on your own, bringing her into a marina for the first time? What special vocabulary might you want to know so you understand? You already know port and starboard, and hopefully you’re at least partially acquainted with the engine and how it works. Here are a few more.

For cruising:

Sundowner: a special drink (alcoholic or not) at sundown. When you’re invited for sundowners, it means you’ve been invited to hang in the cockpit chatting while the sun goes down, an event everyone watches. Take your own drinks and a nibble to share.

  Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Provisioning: stocking up on whatever you need for food, drink, and various other items on the boat. It’s like grocery shopping  for the boat.

Dinghy dock: special spot to leave your dinghy when you go ashore.

Reading the mail: listening to other conversations on the VHF. Everyone does it. Don’t think any conversation on the VHF is private, even if you’ve got your “secret” channel.

Weather window: a period of time when the weather appears to be favorable for a passage you want to make. You can help yourself find one by using FastSeas, a weather routing site designed by my husband, Jeremy. And in any case, this book* is great to have on hand to learn about tactics to use when a window slams shut unexpectedly. 

  If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

Cruiser’s Midnight: 9 pm. 

The Net: local vhf radio call-in at a set time, usually in the morning. Organization varies depending on location, but generally includes some weather, general announcements, and a time for new boats to introduce themselves. If there is one, it’s a great source of information especially if you are new to the area.

And, to honor my friend and her high school essay, I wanted to include a couple of marina scenarios. If you don’t know the lingo, these questions/statements could totally throw you for a loop.

Marina: What do you draw?

Answer: “Draw” means “how much water do you need to float.” This matters not only for where they put you, but also because sometimes the way in to a marina has restricted depths. It’s a good idea to ask about the APPROACH depths too.

Marina: What's your beam?

Answer: This is how wide the boat is. It matters because they’ll put you (hopefully) into a slip that you fit without the need of grease or a shoehorn.

Marina: Okay! You have slip B-12. Starboard tie.

Translation: Slip? The dock space you’ve been assigned to. “Starboard tie” means you’ll be tying up on the starboard side – IF you are going bow in.  If you prefer going stern in, then you’ll be tying on the port side. Get your lines ready and fenders out. 

  Calypso in her slip.

Calypso in her slip.

Obviously, these aren’t the only special words you need to learn. But it’s a good start.

(and the word I wanted my friend to explain? Slip. If she had explained it, it would totally have ruined a wonderful essay. Vocabulary and audience – they both matter!)

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Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

  Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

  Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

  Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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Projects Other Than Boat Projects

Today, the project was getting rid of the cork boards.

Yes, that was today's' boat project.

Because in all the focus on boat projects, there are boat projects that have nothing, actually, to do with the physical boat.

Really. As weird as that may sound, there are many many projects that need to be done before we can head off cruising - and so many of those are NOT on board.

  How many boat parts can you see?

How many boat parts can you see?

There's the garage (and the attic - but the garage looks at us every day when we get home from work. It feels more immediate.) Sifting, organizing, purging, and cleaning. We've lived in this house for over 18 years. That's a lot of Halloweens. A lot of camping trips. A lot of excitedly-started-and-just-as-hastily-abandoned projects. We have endless boat parts in that garage, some worth keeping, some worth selling, and some worth, well, a dumpster trip.

There's enough wood to build a dinghy, I think. And no, we can't take it all with us.

  Some of the wood we have. SOME.

Some of the wood we have. SOME.

And of course we've kept every moving box we've come across.

There's the books and clothes and old electronic equipment we have in closets and bookshelves, all of which need inspection and decisions. Do we take? Give away? Pitch?

We have a house that needs some work, since the plan is to sell it before we take off. Houses generally always need work, of course, but there are some projects that tend to be put off until later. "Later" has arrived.

  See the new wood?

See the new wood?

Other projects include parenting projects like helping the kids make college decisions. Get driver's licenses. Apply for jobs.

In the midst of all these projects is day-to-day life, which is pretty amazingly full as it is. Can these projects feel overwhelming? Yes. It's not like every single day I wake up raring to go, psyched to knock off 6 projects before breakfast. (actually, those days are rare. And not much happens before coffee in any case!)

But each project has a place, and a reason. Each project has steps I can take, and each step means it's that much closer to being done. Sometimes getting rid of one thing is taking one step, small as it is.

  Projects, started and abandoned.

Projects, started and abandoned.

And there are no longer any cork boards in that garage. Onward!

How to Learn to Sail

Boat projects abound. Still, it's fun to reflect on how I got to this point. A few people have asked me for advice on learning to sail, since that's probably a pretty important part of this sailing life. Right? 

  Optis ready for Junior Week

Optis ready for Junior Week

I learned to sail on a glacier lake in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where the boats we have are old and water-logged and sluggish in the best of winds. My version of sailing, shared by others who also had no real clue about the sport, was one of flogging sails and a whole lot of paddling, spiced by a too-short tiller extension and a centerboard that slipped out if we heeled too far. I learned that sailing was a sport of independence, of frequent mishaps, and maybe, if you were lucky, some moments of sheer bliss. There was also a lot of paddling and swimming.

 

This is not the ideal way to learn to sail.

  Laughter, even in Averill.

Laughter, even in Averill.

My best friend in high school went on to represent the United States on the sailing team in 2 separate Olympic games. From her, I learned the importance of the proper terminology for all parts of the boat, as well as the joys of actually sailing a boat that moved with the power of the wind. When I had the chance to sail with her, on her family’s boat on Lake Ontario, I was treated to a world where the wind was your partner, not something you fought against every second of the time. I learned that sailboats are gorgeous, you can’t tell how much closer you are to the finish line than the other guy until you’re pretty close to it, and big boats shouldn’t involve swimming as a way to get back to shore.

 

This was a better way to learn to sail.

  Random dock photo. Just because.

Random dock photo. Just because.

When I got to college, I decided I’d further my sailing education and joined the sailing club. I went to the University of Virginia, which is situated in land-locked Charlottesville, and we practiced on a man-made lake 30 minutes away from the school. My skipper took pity on me and taught me about hiking out to keep the boat flat, the joys of a well-executed roll tack, and how to rig a 420 while trying to keep your fingers warm. We did, often, sail in cold weather. These college sailing days were filled with laughter and work, endless road trips and late nights of car rides and conversations. Friends introduced me to teaching at Sail Caribbean, a teen sailing camp in the Caribbean where I spent my days teaching teenagers on 50’ sailboats the joys of all aspects of life aboard. Sailing is friendship, cooperation, muscle memory, and travel – and maybe, if you’re lucky, a little money-making on the side.

 

This was, so far, the best way to learn to sail.

 

After college graduation, my husband and I bought our own 28’ boat and took off, spending 3 years wandering the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean before heading up the East Coast and settling down in Charlottesville. We had to be self-sufficient in ways no 20-year-old thinks about, and every 20 year old ought to experience. From learning the hard way that you better fill your water tanks to the brim before you shove off the docks the first time, to anchoring 5 times for 4 named storms our first year out, to blissful days tacking in and out of anchorages along Venezuela’s bay-studded coast – life was full of adventures both amazing and terrifying. 

  Then, when you get older, you can teach your parents.

Then, when you get older, you can teach your parents.

If I had to choose it all over again, I’d pick the last one as my favorite way to learn this sailing thing.

 

Maybe. Maybe not.

 

Thing is, all of these had one thing in common. Whether good or bad, all of these involved actually getting on a boat and shoving off from land. I learned something from every single encounter I had with a hull that had a mast stuck in it; actually, I still do. The best way to learn to sail is to get out there and sail, no matter how you get a chance to do it.

 

If you’ve got access to a cold lake and a heavy old boat, go for it. If you can learn from someone who’s the best of the best, go for it. If you pick up a book, or watch YouTube videos, and then get on a boat and try and try and try again – that’s a perfect way to learn to sail. If you have the opportunity to sail on a large boat in the sun-filled Virgin Islands, or somewhere in the tropics, I can promise you you will learn something.

  Start young, if you can!

Start young, if you can!

But what if you’re older, not starting out as a kid or in high school or in college. What then? Is it too late?

 

There’s a favorite saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now. Same holds true with sailing. You might have more patience now, more ability to be deliberate. You might listen better, or research more, or have the funds to pay a decent instructor. Don’t let age deter you from trying something new!

 

If you’re a parent, lamenting the fact that you are just learning and you want your kid to learn earlier in life than you did, get out on the water. Sure, let them join a junior program or do a sailing-focused camp or send them off to Sail Caribbean or another of the sailing schools designed for teens around the world. Just get them on the water, messing about in boats. Go with them, learn together, and play.

 

The best way to learn to sail? That’s the way you do it. Stop researching, grab your PFD*, and get out on the water. I bet you won’t regret it.

See you out there.

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The Glories of One Inch!

We’re in the process of moving our double bunk from the forepeak, where it’s been since we “finalized” the interior in 1993. The initial thought around not putting it in the main salon was that I wanted to have a bunk I didn’t have to make up every night.

 

Hah.

That space, as you can see in the video, is also where the head is. Where the main tool storage is. Where the extra food is stored. Every single night I had to make up the bunk, reworking sheets and blankets. For a “that bed must look gorgeous before I get into it every night” person like me, this was not what I had thought would be the case.

 

The “factory finished” Bristol Channel Cutters have this ingenious pull out pilot berth on the port side. By day it masquerades as the back to the settee, a book-less bookshelf, if you will. By night, it slides out to form a comfortable double bunk. Call it a Murphy bed for the vertically challenged.

  This is the "closed" bunk on a friend's boat. Clearly in project mode himself!

This is the "closed" bunk on a friend's boat. Clearly in project mode himself!

Our boat, hull number 6, was built before the yard was even offering finished interiors. The original owners (we are owner #3) had it taken to San Diego from Costa Mesa to get her ready to sail; the man we bought her from had never really gotten around to doing the rest of it (other than removing the diesel stove). In 1992, we had basically a clean slate to work with, and putting a v-berth in was high on the priority list. That the head would be under the insert for the bunk was not a great worry; who needs to use the head in the middle of the night?

  Calypso, as we bought her. Clean slate interior!

Calypso, as we bought her. Clean slate interior!

Ahem, that would be the almost 50 year old me, with her almost 50 year old bladder. No judging.

 

Between that and wanting any visitor to have more head privacy, plus the desire to have a place to shower down below, plus knowing that we’re cruising as a couple this time around (no kids), plus the realization that actually, Lyle Hess (the designer) knew what the heck he was doing when he figured out how the accommodations would work on this boat . . . we’re changing the interior to more closely mirror the factory finish, and we are so excited about it!

 

There are a couple of big things we won’t change. Our galley is to starboard, not port, without the oh-so-smart aspect of the sink bumped out more toward the centerline (for easier drainage!). Our floorboards are about 2 inches higher than on the yard-done boats, giving more room for larger water tanks but minimizing headroom for Jeremy.

 

The work on the bunk has begun in earnest as of this past weekend, when we had a chance to really sit and look and scheme and measure. Boat geometry is complicated in any case; it feels more complicated with a small boat.

  demolition is the first step

demolition is the first step

We need to make the bunk as wide as it can be when it’s pulled out. Allow for as much head room on the outboard (under the side deck) side as possible. Make sure the backrest of the settee isn’t too low for comfort. Ensure that someone sitting on the settee to eat can do so without having to crunch his knees. And make sure there’s bulkhead room for lounging with your back to the bulkhead. All this while making sure the pullout section is supported. That’s a lot of different things to think about in one small space.

 

We’ll mock it up a few different ways before committing to anything, of course, but one thing that stood out as we were measuring and talking and trying things out. 

  Blue tape? Where we could lower the backrest, to gain bunk width.

Blue tape? Where we could lower the backrest, to gain bunk width.

Inches matter.

 

Like literally, an inch will make a huge difference in comfort. It might mean between being able to sit up in bed or relax against the bulkhead – or not. It might mean the difference between a comfortable backrest while sitting or a contortionist’s nightmare while eating.

  Can we find enough inches to make this tenable?

Can we find enough inches to make this tenable?

 

It’s incredible to be thinking in terms of inches. When so much of my life as a landlubber is consumed with more more more, when we talk about faster internet and acres of land and how much MORE can we have, there is something so satisfying in focusing on where to find one more inch of space.

 

It’s precision. Priorities. Looking and thinking outside of the box. Careful attention to detail. And a certainty that it can all work beautifully well together.

  Very initial mockup.

Very initial mockup.

 

Where can you find your inches?

Privacy Concerns

One of the things we take for granted living in a house is privacy. Doors lock, the walls are thick, there’s another room you can escape to if you need your own space. On a boat, sometimes that privacy is hard to come by. (Read about living on a boat here!)

There’s privacy and there’s alone time, and for the purposes of this blog I’m using the terms somewhat interchangeably. I think of privacy as, well, things you want to keep to yourself. These tend to be items of the bodily function type, but they can be emotions and reactions as well. Alone time is just that – solitude. Feel free to shift the vocabulary to suit.

  Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

When I’m living aboard, it’s on a really small boat. There’s not much inherent privacy in a space that’s 28 feet long from end to end (37 if you stretch from the tip of the bowsprit to the end of the boomkin), and one where there’s not a single door other than ones on cabinet fronts to be found. And I can promise you, as much as I love my husband and my children, there are times when I Just. Want. To. Be. Alone.

 

Granted, you are likely dealing with a larger boat than I am. What I’ve found, though, is that there are a lot of  similarities when you’re talking about boat living, no matter the size. Whatever boat you’ve got, there’s less privacy than in a house.

 

On land it’s easy. Different work and school schedules often result in at least some time where you’re alone in the house, no matter who you are in the family after about age 13. On a cruising boat, when your schedules are the same and there is little space that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, it’s a little harder. On land, you can escape easily by going for a walk or even just closing the door to your room. On a boat? Not so easy! Don’t fear! You can attain that much-desired level of privacy on board even a boat as small as Calypso, and though it takes a bit more work than it might on land, the trade-offs are well worth it. 

  You might choose to solo sail.

You might choose to solo sail.

First of all is the “take yourself for a walk” option. On land, you strap on your shoes, open the door, and off you go. On a boat, it’s more involved. Unless you’re tied to a dock, you need to get into the dinghy (whatever that entails) and head off. Wow is it worth it for everyone! It provides alone time, recharge time, for the person staying on board as well as the person zipping off somewhere in the dinghy. There are some natural times when this happens. Dinghy expeditions with a fellow cruiser, walks on the beach. Going off to help another cruiser with a boat project, or heading into land to clear customs. Laundry or shopping! I’ve had times when I’ve volunteered to stay on board to “mind the watermaker”, content to pass up a shore activity; Jeremy has done the same when I’ve had some small errand to run.

 

This aspect of alone time requires transportation, unless you’re in a marina or all you’re doing is snorkeling off the boat (which is a very fine excuse!). If you’re traveling with a family, having a second dinghy of some sort is a really worthwhile indulgence. It can be a simple kayak or even a stand up paddle board*, but a way to get ashore or off the boat is so helpful to keep tempers in check. This means that if someone has the big dink, someone else can also escape. Even on Calypso, we carried a kayak (2 of them) as well as the inflatable, and though we grumbled at times at the space they took up we loved having them – the kids could go off on their own and often did. At anchor in the Abacos, our son wanted to go build a sand fort; having that kayak meant he could just go do it. Another memorable moment was in Eleuthera, when our daughter, age 8, took a kayak by herself and went to the library in Governor’s Harbour. Safety angles for those who are concerned? We’d gone in as a family earlier in the visit, so she knew exactly where she was going. We could see her all the way in, and she had a handheld VHF which she knew how to use. She felt such a sense of independence, plus she loved having her own thing to do. Her mood was so much improved when she returned from that expedition!

  Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Even now, as we plan the next trip which will be just the 2 of us on board, we know we’ll have another transportation “device”, likely one which doubles as a water toy. They’re just good to have!

 

One thing worth mentioning – communication is key. Not only communicating where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but also respecting someone else’s need for alone time. If an invitation of a shore jaunt is passed up, don’t take it personally – it could well be that the other person just needs to chill on the boat without you there. And taking a handheld VHF is a very good idea.

 

What about times when you just can’t get off the boat? The high wind or nasty weather times. The passage times. The it’s almost dark and not safe to go off times. These times happen, and somehow it’s during those times when tempers run hot and privacy becomes critical. What then?

  Good headphones are awesome!

Good headphones are awesome!

 

Where in a house you can head to your room and close the door, boats sometimes don’t have doors. They sometimes don’t have dedicated rooms either. Our v-berth is the workbench, the head, and the spare food storage area. The quarterberth, where Julian slept, was also where we tucked the watermaker and the batteries. Though your boat might have more defined use spaces, my guess it it’s still much closer quarters than even the smallest apartment.

 

What we found, both cruising before kids and with them, is that each of us gravitated to a certain space on board. If our daughter needed to feel like she was really on her own, she took herself to the foredeck or tucked herself into the v-berth and hid behind the bulkhead. I snuck to the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket if needed. Julian and Jeremy pulled out computers and lost themselves in a game or video. There were times when the kids (ah, when they were small!) cuddled together in the quarterberth, laughing at some episode of "Gilligan’s Island" or a Looney Tunes dvd. The visual break was the critical piece for us.

 

When we were on board Totem in Panama in February, with 9 people on board, the same idea of space held true. Behan had her desk in the aft cabin while Jamie worked at the chart table. Mairen and Siobhan each sprawled on a separate settee. Niall had his space in his cabin, and Julian found a spot on the foredeck to call his. Bee claimed the v-berth for painting; Jeremy and I pursued our own stuff in different parts of the cockpit. We might not have had a physical barrier separating us visually from each other, but our attitudes and respect made it all work.

  Focus.

Focus.

To add to that visual separation, try some kind of audio blanketing. Good earphones or headphones, noise canceling ones, can be worth their weight in gold for keeping crew members happy. Fans in the head can help with the body noises we all would rather forget. Do they mean you don’t hear a thing? No. But it gives you the edge you may require to tune stuff out.

 

Privacy on a boat is mostly in the respect we afford each other. It’s about pretending you don’t hear the noises from the head. It’s staying in the cockpit while a modest crew member is changing clothing down below. It’s allowing your partner, or your kid, or your parent, who is deep in a project or book or something, the time and space to do that without interruption. It’s working to give people privacy instead of just assuming it’s there. And it’s communicating early and often about what you need to make it all work, including understanding that you might need an extra dinghy-like “thing” on board.

 

Still, in my opinion, it’s worth all the hassle.

 

See you out there.

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A Day in the Life . . . Guest Cruising on Totem

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Snapshot of one day on board Totem, a Stevens 47, sailing in the Guna Yala province of Panama (which you may know of as the San Blas Islands) On board for the week are the usual crew of 5 – Jamie and Behan Gifford and kids Niall (18), Mairen (15), and Siobhan (13) plus Mochi the hamster – and visiting cruisers the Waters family – Jeremy and Nica Waters with Julian (18) and Bee (16)

6:30 am. It’s Wednesday, I think. The smell of coffee wakes me, though when I check the clock I decide I don’t need to wake up quite yet and I roll over for another 30 minutes of snoozing.

 coffee and sunscreen with a view

coffee and sunscreen with a view

7 am. Coffee in the cockpit is my absolute favorite way to start the day. I see frigate birds whirl overhead, listen to the wind generator spin power, and marvel at the way the clouds move in the sky.

8 am. Behan is making bannock, kind of oatcake muffin scone things that you cook on the stovetop. I’d like to learn the recipe. Mairen tackles the dish mountain from last night while Bee and Siobhan tidy up the main cabin, putting away the extra bedding needed for Bee. 9 people on a boat suited for 5 is a stretch, but so far there have been no complaints. (Read more about living aboard)

 Bannock!

Bannock!

            Julian and Niall are still asleep. They’ll likely be there for a while.

            The loose plan for today is to move to another anchorage where we think we can get on a beach and where there are likely to be fewer boats. With this wind, it may well be too rolly for an overnight stay, so it’ll be a lunch stop.

            Here, though, there is decent internet available, and there’s some email and a blog post to take care of. Once that’s done, we’ll get underway. The college application work Niall needed to get out yesterday is done, with the receipt confirmed by the school. Fingers crossed it pays off!

            Jamie changes spark plugs on the dinghy engine, which is not working as smoothly as he’d like.

9:30 am. Hatches closed, anchor is up. It’s a short trek, so we’re charging, running the watermaker, and heating water for showers.

10:30. Anchor down at Gun Cay, a reef just ahead of us and another island where Gilligan might have been shipwrecked off to port. Utopia is 50 yards away. It’s been a 5 mile passage, and it’s Totem’s 555th time anchoring. We’ll celebrate with a swim. The snorkel expedition is a 2-dinghy, 9 people, one. We’re calling it successful, with soft corals, a moray eel, a nurse shark, lobster and crab sightings, and enough fish to keep our interest for a while.

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12:30. Corn chowder on the stove, laundry being hung from lifelines. Niall regales us with some highlights from Totem’s almost-complete circumnavigation.

2 pm. I start my workout on the foredeck while the boys go to shore to ask permission to fly the drone. After a sound rebuff, they return to up anchor while I work hard to keep my balance and finish my sweat session.

 My gym.

My gym.

3:10 pm. We’re anchored off of Isla Maquina, a Guna village island we’ve been invited by Islaflora, Venanzio’s brother, to visit and tour with him. Venanzio is the master mola maker we bought some wares from the other day. All of us are going in for the tour, though Jamie and Andrew are making noises about wanting to work on Utopia’s watermaker. It just needs to last until Shelter Bay, where the new one is waiting.

4:30 pm. We’re anchored at Gaygar for the night. “Pool is closed,” says Jamie, indicating the silty water, sloped and jungle-y waterfront. Prime crocodile territory. Andrew thinks he saw one on his fish finder, and though we look across the water for logs moving against the wind, we don’t see anything. I’m not sure we’re pleased or not. In any case, there is no swimming tonight!

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5:00 pm. The shower parade has begun, as has the conversation about what to have for dinner. Burgers it will be! Behan whips up dough for rolls and we slice onions for the grill, mixing burger meat with seasonings and a few things to stretch the 2 pounds of meat. Leftovers are heated up for nibbles with sundowners in the cockpit – lobster paella and cheese dip. Perfect! Use up leftovers and celebrate another lovely sunset. Wins all around.

5:30 pm. Forward head is clogged again. It takes a little cajoling, a little turning off of water pressure and priming the pump, and it’s clear. Whew.

7:30 pm. Buns are baked, burgers are grilled, and everyone is happily eating. Kids are in fierce competition over bananagrams, so we adults leave them below and eat in the cockpit, discussing the plans for tomorrow and checking weather. The second box of peppermint JoJos is broken into for dessert.

 Kids and bananagrams

Kids and bananagrams

9:00. Cruisers midnight. Behan and I leave Jamie and Jeremy pulling out the ipad and the starwalk app to look at the stars, and I fall asleep to the sound of laughter from the main cabin as well as the cockpit.

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Cruising Hacks, Totem-inspired

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This post is all about a few small items that can help with space, organization, or just simple tricks that make life easier. All of these pictures were taken on board Totem, during our unbelievable 10 days aboard in Panama. If you don’t follow Behan and Jamie and their kids, who at this writing are closing in on their circumnavigation after 10 years out, you’re missing out. www.sailingtotem.com

 Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

 

1.     A pair of silpat baking mats* that you can roll out tortillas in between. I’d not thought about this trick, which will save flour, oil, plastic wrap – anything you might use to stop thin dough from sticking to whatever surface you’re working on. Of course, you can use the mats (one at a time, anyway) for their intended purpose and just bake cookies or pastries on them. 

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2.     A small white board pinned to the bulkhead near the galley, where you list items to be used up, items you need to purchase, and even (if you’ve got a large crew) who’s in charge of dishes for the next dish event. I particularly like the “things to use up” category, as even in a tiny boat fridge it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve got tucked in there. This list means you won’t waste food, an always-helpful aspect of life on a budget. 

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3.     Double magnet bars as a knife holder, pinned to the underside of the overhead or on a bulkhead or inside a cabinet. This trick takes advantage of otherwise unusable space. I’ve often seen a single magnet bar used in this way, which makes me nervous. The double magnet bar means the knives are attached on 2 strong points. Behan tells me the only time a knife has come loose in their travels is when someone has knocked it. The passage we did with them, a 44 mile slog in large seas that Jamie casually tossed out as easily one of the top 10 worst passages they’d seen, had those knives staying exactly where they were placed. 

 Note the TWO bars.

Note the TWO bars.

4.     Bins for organization in the fridge. Boat fridges are often top-loading, which can make organization and finding things a true pain. Add to that the constant concern about not leaving the fridge open too long (that cold is electricity which you have to generate, remember – I’d rather be keeping the beer and butter cold than pouring the cold into the air) . . . separating like items in bins makes it far easier to find them. Added bonus – you can store things under the bin, effectively creating layers that can be easily accessed. 

 Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

5.     A refillable pump container for sunscreen that fits perfectly into a cup holder in a prominent place in the cockpit. Buying sunscreen in bulk is a good way to save money, but hauling out a humongous container every day (multiple times a day) will get old way faster than you can imagine. Keeping the sunscreen accessible and easily dispensed is a fabulous way to make it more used, and making sure the crew stays protected from the sun is important to long-term health. Sure, wearing long-sleeved shirts and staying in the shade is number one – but you’ll still need sunscreen!

 Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

All of these save space, sanity, or some kind of resource. Sounds like the perfect cruising hack to me!

See you out there.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sailing Sunsets

A photo post. Taken in various places, over the years. 

Because sunsets are magic.

And so is cruising.

See you out there.